EU seeks to forge improved relations with US under President Joe Biden

Politicians stress the need to repair the damage done during Donald Trump’s tenure

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaks during a news conference following a meeting with his Palestine counterpart Riyad al-Maliki, in Berlin, Germany November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/Pool
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The European Union faces a potentially “combative” relationship with new US President Joe Biden as it seeks to establish sovereignty in trade and international relations, the German foreign minister has said.

But with global trade deals being struck, the EU needed to rapidly resolve its differences over exports with the US and come to an agreement, Heiko Maas told the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum.

And Portugal’s foreign minister also told the conference of the need to repair the relationship between the EU and the US following the damage done under President Donald Trump’s tenure, with Europe treated as "the enemy".

With Germany now holding the EU presidency, it will be seen as the leader in reconstructing the transatlantic relationship. “We as Europeans need to get up out of our seats,” Mr Maas said. “The US presidency is not going to change everything and I think that a lot is going to be combative with Joe Biden.”

While opportunities might arise from the US election, he said, Europe required a new strategy. “We need more European sovereignty in the foreign and security policy,” he said.

The EU also had to put the difficult years of Mr Trump’s presidency behind it. “It's important that we start talking and negotiate because we cannot go on like we did in recent years. It's to the detriment of the United States and the European Union. We should insist on being an equal partners,” Mr Maas said.

Europe had to recognise that several international trade agreements had been struck during the Covid crisis, including the world’s biggest trade pact between the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) earlier this month.

“We must be interested in promoting free trade with America, organising and regulating that in a different way,” Mr Maas said, adding the EU would open discussions with Mr Biden’s team on a deal.

Augusto Silva, Portugal’s foreign minister, said the ASEAN deal could mean the EU and US were being left behind. “In my view, the worst mistake of the Trump administration was to suspend the negotiations that were ongoing for a new trade agreement between the EU and US,” he said.

He also criticised US treatment of Europe under President Trump. “The disagreement with the Trump administration was a disagreement not only on content, but also on language, stance and methods,” Mr Silva said. “We were poorly treated by our American friends, not as friends and allies, but as adversaries, or even enemies.” The EU had been put in the invidious position of choosing between “China or the US”, he added.

EU foreign ministers will be expected to meet the new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken early in the new year once his position has been confirmed by Congress.

The politician, who is a fluent French speaker, is expected to push for stronger ties with the EU. Previously he has called Europe “a vital partner”. He also condemned Mr Trump’s proposal to remove almost 10,000 US troops from Germany as “foolish, it’s spiteful, and it’s a strategic loser”.